Stuff I Use: Workrave (PC) and Timeout (Mac)

I recently had LASIK surgery and as part of the recovery process you’re supposed to limit the amounts of time you spend in activities that tend to make you blink less. Top on that list are using a computer or watching television. Since I work at a desk for a living, I needed something to remind me to take frequent breaks to rest my eyes.

It so happens that there a lot of small timer apps for PCs and Macs that can do this, especially now that it’s generally accepted that sitting all day staring at a screen is not particularly good for your health. Which means there’s a lot of variations on what would seem to be a simple theme. I looked at a bunch and here are my picks for use on Windows PCs and Macs (since I have a PC at work and a Mac at home):

Timeout (Mac)

While there are a bunch of timer apps on the Mac App Store, Timeout was the only free one and offered everything I was looking for so it was an easy choice. Timeout has both a “Normal” break timer plus a “Micro” break timer. Micro breaks are typically of much shorter duration and more frequent. For instance, I have a 30 minute break set with a 5 minute rest time as my normal break and a 10 minute micro break with 30 seconds of rest time. Timeout is very configurable but I have it at mostly the default settings so that it dims the screen in the background during rest periods. You can postpone or skip breaks, if you want, as well as launch programs or scripts if you want to do something like play a song. But no matter what, you should at least close your eyes and ideally get up from your chair during the break. You’ll be glad you did.

Timeout is donation ware and available here.

Workrave (PC)

Functionally, Workrave is very similar to Timeout (which is why I use it) with some differences. The normal/micro break timers are very similar although Workrave hides all the active windows rather than dims them. You can still skip or postpone, of course. There is also an additional timer called “Daily Limit” which allows you to set a maximum amount of time per day you get for screen time. Since this is my work PC, I don’t use this but it might be nice if you find yourself getting lost in your computer.

One other nifty feature is the ability to run Workrave on multiple PCs and have it coordinate between them via the network. So if you have a multi-machine setup Workrave monitors all of them for activity and triggers on the machine your currently working with.

Workrave is opensource and also runs on Linux. You can get it here, with source code available here at Github.

Number of 9/11-related cancer cases is growing

It should probably come as a surprise to no one, but the number of cancer cases among 9/11 first responders and rescue workers is growing. Yes, it may not be statistically significant yet, but given that the WTC was built in the early 1970s and was full of materials known to be carcinogenic, this trend seems likely to continue.

Luckily, the government set up the World Trade Center Health Program to help these folks and they will continue to monitor and treat those affected. It’s the least we can, really.

Former NSA head Keith Alexander is profiting on cybersecurity

Keith Alexander is the former director of the NSA as well as former head of the US Cyber Command, who announced he was going into cybersecurity consulting upon his retirement from the government Hardly surprising given his background, right? But he also announced that the company he founded will be delivering a new anti-hacker tool based on behavioral models. And also filing for nine patents around technology associated with that tool. This is where things get a little ugly. While it’s possible he came up with this technology on his own and on his own time, but it’s far more likely he did so as a result of his employment with the NSA and Cyber Command. Meanwhile, Jason Leopold is suing the NSA for failure to disclose Alexander’s financial information.

Stay tuned, this could get exciting.

Smoking mothers may alter the DNA of their children

I was born in the 1950s to a woman who smoked and undoubtedly smoked while she was pregnant (and died at 45 of lung cancer). Besides the issues around lower birth weight, there have been reasons to believe that children of smoking mothers continue to suffer from health issues well into adulthood. Now genetic researchers have discovered that smoking mothers may actually alter the DNA of their children thus setting them up for problems later in life.

I had a lot of ear problems as a kid and they eventually removed my tonsils to deal with that, as they did to solve so many problems back in the 60s. It didn’t work, of course. Now I wonder if my parents’ smoking was the real issue behind it.

[Added later] I am not blaming my parents in any way. The Surgeon General’s report on the health hazards of smoking did not come out until 1964, when I was 7 years-old. Although there were many in the scientific community that were aware of the issue, it was not well-known to the average person.

If you can’t check in, is it really Foursquare?

It’s a strange tradition, but like so many others Foursquare dropped their primary function, checking in to a place, from the app in order to concentrate on being something like Yelp. If you want to check in like you used to, you have to install a new app they call “Swarm”.

I declined, and since I already have multiple apps for recommending places I uninstalled Foursquare. Obviously, this is the opposite of the behavior they were looking for but as the linked article correctly points out, checking in was the entire point behind Foursquare. Conveniently, Facebook has a check in feature and since most of my friends are on Facebook, it’s more than adequate for my purposes.

If there’s a message in all of this it’s this: Don’t forget what made you popular to begin with. If you don’t know, ask. Then stick with it.

146.52 Reasons to Monitor VHF Simplex

WE2F says there are 146.52 Reasons to Monitor VHF Simplex.

I’ve tried doing so, particularly when I was regularly traveling to Long Island and back, with no success. What I haven’t done, though, is program it in as a regular scanned frequency. I will try that just to see if there’s any activity. So listen for KC2TCK on 146.52 in the Rochester area and we can talk.

I’ve deleted my account

I have to be honest, I was initially skeptical of, seeing it as a Twitter clone that required you to pay for an account. But I eventually gave it a chance, including posting from here when new entries were published.

But just hasn’t worked out for me and for a lot of others. When I looked at my stream all I saw were automated entries pointing to blog posts (just like my own), rather than the voices of folks on the service. One reason why may be uncertainty. recently laid off most of its staff while claiming the service would continue. It’s a tough decision to try to build a community on top of something you’re not sure will be around tomorrow. If you treat it as a write-only medium, as so many seem to be doing, it’s one thing. But if you want to engage your readers and others, it’s a dicey situation. Twitter, for all its faults, remains a much better place for doing that. And that’s where you’re going to find me.